Larry Osborne, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010, 222 pages.
Larry Osborne is the lead pastor at North Coast Church in northern San Diego County. He speaks extensively on the subjects of leadership and spiritual formation. His books include Sticky Church, 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe, and Spirituality for the Rest of Us.
Nehemiah is a wonderful example of the principle of Ora et Labora. He prayed as though everything depended on God (because it does!), but he also worked as though everything depended on him. Nehemiah is pointed to as a wonderful biblical model of practical leadership in the church. From start to finish, Osborne’s book is a roadmap of practical ways to implement leadership strategies so that the teams which make up a typical church (e.g. boards, staff, congregation) will “stick” together. As in keeping with his goal, this book is not a doctrinal treatise on everything the Bible says about keeping your teams on the same page. Instead, Osborne draws from the best of God given reason, common sense, and his own extensive experience to guide other leaders in creating sticky teams in their own settings. As he says: “It’s the team building manual I wished I’d had when I started out” (19).
Before launching into his three part division of the book, Osborne stresses the importance of unity and what it looks like in a church. “A unified and healthy leadership team doesn’t just happen. It has to be a priority…it finally dawned on me that we were never going to change the world out there if we couldn’t solve the conflicts in here” (24-25).
Osborne outlines his goals as he explains the layout of the book: “’Landmines and Roadblocks’ exposes the organizational structures, policies, and traditions that can unintentionally sabotage even the best of teams. More important, it contains strategies for avoiding these landmines and for getting around the roadblocks. ‘Equipped for Ministry’ explores what it takes to get everyone on the same page and headed in the same direction. Specific chapters deal with board, staff and congregational alignment. ‘Communication’ examines what it takes to keep everyone on the same page, with special emphasis on the dicey areas and issues of ministry – the places where communication most easily breaks down” (21).
There is much in this book that would prove helpful for a pastor’s leadership growth. I will just highlight one example from each of the major sections. In Part I (Landmines and Roadblocks: The Traditions, Policies, and Structures That Unintentionally Sabotage Unity), I most appreciated his chapter entitled, “What Game Are We Playing?” In it Osborne uses a great sports analogy to illustrate that as your leadership team and congregation grows, you are actually “switching” games when it comes to how you need to organize and communicate – are you a track star (i.e. solo), golfing buddies, a basketball team or a football team? He insightfully points out: “This change can be very unsettling for those who prefer golf or basketball. And for those who still think they’re playing golf or basketball, it can be downright dangerous” (66).
In Part II (Equipped for Ministry: Getting Everyone on the Same Page), the chapter entitled “Staff Alignment” was helpful. Osborne introduces the concept of “Plumb Lines” which are more concrete statements than a generic mission statement in order to get everyone on the same page. He explains: “Ministry plumb lines function much like a carpenter’s or mason’s plumb line. They make sure our programs, ministries, and decisions line up with the core values and priorities we claim to have. And they let everyone know how we are supposed to do things around here (150)…That’s not to say that values like ‘reaching the lost’ or ‘glorifying God’ are unimportant. Obviously, they are. But the purpose of plumb lines is to clarify how we plan to go about reaching the lost or glorifying God in this church at this time. Plumb lines don’t represent the only way to do ministry. They represent your way of doing ministry” (153).
Finally, in Part III (Communication: Keeping Everyone on the Same Page), Osborne walks the reader through ways to communicate with your congregation through difficult situations like conflict among leaders, financial challenges and even when staff need to be let go. In this section, he consistently applies the wise advice from an old farmer to a young pastor: “‘Go slow, son. Churches are a lot like horses. They don’t like to be startled or surprised. It causes deviant behavior’” (172). Chapter 14 (“Setting Salaries”) was not entirely helpful simply because of the “Synod Code” system we have set up. Chapter 15 (“Talking About Money”) was an argument for why pastors should know what people are giving in the church. The reader can decide for himself, but this reviewer is unconvinced by the reasons given. However, the stated goal is a good one that we want to have a more informed leadership group when it comes to communicating the state of the church and planning future budgeting needs.
As with any book written by an author with Osborne’s theological background, there will be statements and implications that we cannot agree with. This book is no different. There is evidence of Fundamentalism (“Every church has an irreducible theological minimum” (29).), Decision Theology (“God’s offer of salvation to all” (30).), and God’s Means of communication (“There are only two circumstances under which I would not submit to the board’s direction…(2) if they asked me to disobey what I understood to be the clear and unmistakable voice of the Lord…but that night while I was driving home, it was as if I heard the literal voice of God say, ‘Hire Mike.’ I knew it wasn’t last night’s pizza. It was God” (99).). The difference in “hiring” (his term) and “calling” (our term) is also something that makes one uncomfortable throughout the book.
In setting out to give practical advice on how to avoid organizational landmines, how to get people on the same page, and how to keep them there, Osborne achieved his goal. As he says: “If you think about it, most church fights aren’t over theology or even ministry goals; they’re over priorities and methodologies” (31). That’s a perceptive comment from an insightful author. This book will help pastors evaluate their organizational structure, encourage leadership development (especially among the youth or “young eagles” as Osborne calls them), and become better communicators no matter what the ministry setting.
This book has application for churches of all sizes, however it will be especially helpful to larger parishes. I would not only recommend this book for pastors, but especially for church and school faculties, as well as leadership teams (e.g. church council, circuit study, etc.). There are study questions provided on the final pages of the book to help lead discussion that are very well done. This book will prove a blessing for helping to make “Sticky Teams!”